Non-Fiction: “All The President’s Men” by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

all the president's menThis was the title that originally brought me to the library for the first time in 2017. I mean, gee, I wonder why I’d want to learn more about Watergate? That time when the United States had a President that was actively encouraging crime and misdemeanors? The second-to-last time a President was impeached? (Some would argue, the last time a President was impeached for good reason?) The last time in history when elections were so blatantly manipulated? GEE, I WONDER WHY

I mean, there are other reasons. But the primary reason I decided to read All The President’s Men was because the DVD wasn’t available, and I couldn’t stream it on any of my platforms. The secondary reason is, much like Jake Tapper said recently on Late Night With Stephen Colbert, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it [often] rhymes.” (This quote, according to Google, has been attributed to Mark Twain.) So while Russiagate certainly may look like Watergate, it isn’t exactly the same thing.

(One could argue that Russiagate is inherently worse, and I would be one of those doing the arguing on that side, but again, I try very hard, you guys to keep politics out of this blog as much as possible. Having said that, this entry is going to be one of those times I try not so hard.)

Here’s another reason I was drawn to All The President’s Men: it is, at its heart, a story about reporting. And before I get into some key quotes, let me tell y’all about Spotlight.

Spotlight won Best Picture at the Oscars back in 2016, which, thank God, y’all, because its main contender that year was The fucking Revenant, and it has been almost three years but I am still fucking mad at that movie’s existence. Thankfully, I watched Spotlight first, and I loved it. But not for reasons you may think.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Spotlight, a brief overview: the movie talks about the Spotlight team of reporters, working for the Boston Globe. A team of four to five reporters with an editor in charge, they dig deep into investigative reporting: chase down leads, interview people, do research, the whole thing. It takes this team months to develop a story, and they do not publish anything until the information has been verified by multiple sources and the editor knows it is worthy of print. The story the team is working on in the movie is the bombshell that dropped in Boston back in 2001, about the massive coverup employed by the Catholic clergy in protecting priests who had molested children in their parish.

Boston is hugely Catholic. It shook the entire city. But additionally, victims came pouring out of the woodwork and the impact reverberated all the way back to the Vatican. It was a huge discovery. And it was accomplished by the sheer doggedness of the reporting team.

When I originally went to college, I wanted to go into communications: I wanted to be a journalist. I imagined myself reading the news (by the way, this is before Anchorman came out, so I can’t even say I was inspired by Veronica Corningstone). But I started college in September of 2001. Eleven days in, the entire face of news reporting changed overnight. News became 24-hour driven, and everything was breaking news. And I’m not talking about just the September 11 attacks and the aftermath. Even today, everything becomes breaking news. And the praise for long-form reporting is practically gone: if you don’t have a story right now goddammit, you don’t have a story. The news can’t wait for facts to be confirmed, and the news can’t wait for an entire story to be revealed before go time. Look at the unfortunate reporting circumstances around the death of Tom Petty; I saw on Twitter that he was dead, but when I checked the Washington Post, they stated he was in critical condition. But people can’t wait to fact-check anymore.

People also have a much shorter attention span nowadays, but that’s a different story altogether.

So I loved Spotlight because I really tuned into the love of the reporting that went into that story. I admit, I was one of the very lucky individuals who was far enough removed from the Church that I don’t have a personal story about a priest. But many of my friends did. Maybe not to them, but they heard about a thing happening and then a priest moving away and no one ever talking about the thing ever again. It was a hard film to watch for someone with those circumstances, and my heart goes out to each and every one of them. So when I say “oh my god, I loved Spotlight,” please know I’m coming at it from a much different angle than you may originally think.

Taking that into consideration, I was intrigued on what All The President’s Men would look like. Was it just reprints of the articles? Or was it the story behind the stories? (It was the latter.)

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were junior Metro reporters who happened to get assigned the story of a “third-rate burglary” that occurred on June 17, 1972. Woodward got the call at 9 a.m. that morning and was asked to cover it, and his first thought was that he was being returned to piddly-assed stories he used to cover. Little did he know what would unravel.

I’m not going to get into a lot of the plot (mainly because I copied some quotes almost seven months ago, and I can’t really recall a lot of the context); the book actually ends before Nixon’s resignation. Eventually, I’ll rent the DVD and do a tie-in to Movies Alaina’s Never Seen (I’d check to see if it’s on my List, but I’m writing this in a Word doc because I’m still without power following the massive wind storm from earlier this week) (Note From the Future: I just checked; it’s not on the list). But here are some quotes that really stuck with me, for one reason or another.

Early in the investigation, Woodward contacted Ken W. Clawson, deputy director of White House communications (Sam Seaborn on The West Wing) to discuss the address book in police inventory following the arrest of the Watergate burglars, which contained the name of Howard Hunt.

An hour later, Clawson called back to say that [Howard] Hunt had worked as a White House consultant on declassification of the Pentagon Papers and, more recently, on a narcotics intelligence project. Hunt had last been paid as a consultant on March 29, he said, and had not done any work for the White House since.

“I’ve looked into the matter very thoroughly, and I am convinced that neither Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the Democratic National Committee,” Clawson said.

The comment was unsolicited. [p. 24-25]

Seems innocuous, right? But when you’re a reporter and the person you’re asking information for just volunteers information like that (“Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the [DNC]”), chances are there’s a shade of someone protesting too much, methinks.

(“Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”)

Woodward and Bernstein investigated the burglars, and learned that one of them had a neat sum of $89,000 deposited into one of his bank accounts. They found other checks, one written out to Kenneth H. Dahlberg. Bernstein went to Miami to view the cashier’s check, and asked about the check.

The president knew Dahlberg only slightly as the owner of a winter home in Boca Raton, and as a director of a bank in Fort Lauderdale. That bank’s president was James Collins.

Yes, Collins said, Dahlberg was a director of the bank. As he was describing Dahlberg’s business interests, Collins paused and said, “I don’t know his exact title, but he headed the Midwestern campaign for President Nixon in 1968, that was my understanding.”

Bernstein asked him to please repeat the last statement. [p. 42]

Now, Bernstein’s on the phone at that point; but can’t you just see him sit up in his chair at the mention of the Nixon campaign, and ask disbelievingly, “Say that again”?

This is one of my favorite passages, because it gets to the heart of one of my favorite things: editing:

At about 11:00 p.m., he got another call from [Powell] Moore [Deputy press director of the Committee to Re-elect the President {CRP}, former White House aide], who had talked to John Mitchell [campaign director CRP, former Attorney General] and had a new statement:

There is absolutely no truth to the charges in the Post story. Neither Mr. Mitchell nor Mr. [Maurice H.] Stans [Finance Chairman, CRP; former Secretary of Commerce] has any knowledge of any disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post and neither of them controlled any committee expenditures while serving as government officials.

Bernstein studied the statement and underlined the soft spots. The charges in the Post story. What charges? Disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post. There was no denial of the fund’s existence, or that money had been disbursed, only of the way it was described. Neither of them controlled any committee expenditures. Technically correct. [Hugh W.] Sloan [Treasurer, CRP; former aide to H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff] had controlled the expenditures, Mitchell and Stans had only approved them.

It was the cleverest denial yet, Bernstein told Moore and tried to go over it with him. Moore wouldn’t play. [p. 104]

I know, there’s a lot of names in that paragraph. But look at the way Bernstein parses the White House’s denial of the story, and how much more the White House gives away in its denial! I would say that a certain White House could learn from such a response, but I don’t want them to learn how to be professional; it would almost make things that much worse.

(“If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”)

Oh, gee, I wonder why I decided to copy the entirety of this next quote, back in March, months before the Nazi uprising in Charlottesville, and also, the first proclamation of fake news, no, Donny, you didn’t make up the term, that was Clark McGregor, you asshole:

[[The following is all taken from a speech Clark MacGregor, John Mitchell’s successor as director of the Nixon campaign, makes at a press conference, trying to steer the tide from George McGovern, Democratic nominee for the President:]]

Lashing out wildly, George McGovern has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler, the Republican Party to the Ku Klux Klan, and the United States Government to the Third Reich of Nazi Germany . . . .

[…]
Using innuendo, third-person hearsay, unsubstantiated charges, anonymous sources and huge scare headlines, the Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection between the White House and the Watergate – a charge which the Post knows and half a dozen investigations have found to be false.

The hallmark of the Post’s campaign is hypocrisy – and its celebrated “double standard” is today visible for all to see.

Unproven charges by McGovern aides, or Senator Muskie [he was from Maine!], about alleged campaign disruptions that occurred more than six months ago are invariably given treatment normally accorded to declarations of war – while proven facts of opposition-incited disruptions of the President’s campaign are buried deep inside the paper. [p. 164]

Guys – history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure as hell rhymes.

Oh, hey, speaking of fake news – this is from one of the conversations Woodward had with Deep Throat, and this is Deep Throat talking about Nixon:

“Nixon was wild, shouting and hollering that ‘we can’t have it and we’re going to stop it, I don’t care how much it costs.’ His theory is that the news media have gone way too far and the trend has to be stopped – almost like he was talking about federal spending. He’s fixed on the subject and doesn’t care how much time it takes; he wants it done. To him, the question is no less than the very integrity of government and basic loyalty. He thinks the press is out to get him and therefore is disloyal; people who talk to the press are even worse – the enemies within, or something like that.” [p. 269]

Man … like, I don’t really have a pithy remark right here. I’m just going to play The Propellerhead’s “History Repeating” over and over again and cry into my bottle of water (it’s after 10 p.m. and I’m taking a short sabbatical from booze for no reason other than I want to).

This next quote is a good reminder that common sense should —

Okay, you want to know something sad? I was going to say “common sense should trump all else,” but I didn’t want to write the word ‘trump’. It’s a perfectly cromulent word*, but it fills me with such distaste to use it as it should.

Fuck you, Donny, for forcing a perfectly good word out of my vocabulary.

*Before I get back into the introduction for this next quote, I should remind you that I’m writing this in Word because I have no internet, but guys – Word recognizes ‘cromulent’ as a word! It’s not misspelled! HOLY SHIT, you guys, ‘cromulent’ has become cromulent!!

ANYWAY. This next quote is a good reminder that common sense should always come first:

[Woodward] recalled a lesson he had learned in his freshman year at Yale. The instructor had assigned the students to read some medieval documents that gave somewhat conflicting accounts of Henry IV’s famous visit to Canossa in 1077 to seek Pope Gregory’s forgiveness. According to all of them, the King had waited barefoot in the snow outside the Vatican for days. Woodward had pored over the documents, made notes and based his paper on the facts on which most accounts agreed. All the witnesses had Henry IV out there in the snow for days with his feet bare. The instructor had failed Woodward because he had not used common sense. No human being could stand for days barefoot in the snow and not have his feet freeze off, the instructor said. “The divine right of kings did not extend to overturning the laws of nature and common sense.” [p. 230-231]

The divine right of kings – or given rights of elected officials – should not extend to overturning laws of nature or common sense.

(“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”)

In conversation with an associate of John W. Dean III (Counsel to the President, and if you haven’t seen him recently on Full Frontal, you should), Bernstein learned that John D. Ehrlichman (Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs) wanted to have some files “deep sixed”.

Bernstein was more shaken by all of this than by anything since June 17. It was the language and the context of Ehrlichman’s remark to Dean that troubled him. Just as if they were a couple of Mafiosi talking to each other in a restaurant, the President’s number-two assistant had said to the President’s consigliere: Hey, Joe, we gotta dump this stuff in the river before the boss gets hurt.

Howard Simons [managing editor of the Post] slouched in a chair, drawing deeply on a cigarette, the color gone from his face. “A director of the FBI destroying evidence? I never thought it could happen,” he said quietly. [p. 306-307]

HEY HOWARD – would you believe that an FBI director could be fired without notice and then that same FBI director would leak his unclassified memos to a friend so as to install a Special Counsel? Is that believable?!

This quote is how the book ends (and remember, this book was originally published on June 15, 1974; Nixon wouldn’t resign until August 9 of that year):

To those who will decide if he [Nixon] should be tried for “high crimes and misdemeanors” – the House of Representatives –
And to those who would sit in judgment at such a trial if the House impeaches – the Senate –
And to the man who would preside at such an impeachment trial – the Chief Justice of the United States, Warren Burger –
And to the nation …
The President said, “I want you to know that I have no intention whatever of ever walking away from the job that the American people elected me to do for the people of the United States.” [p. 336]

I meant to point out something before I talked about this last quote … OH. So, the version of the book I read back in March was probably originally published in 1974 – it was one of those library books with the generic cover, all one color, and the spine had the title printed on it but there was no imagery or dust jacket. It reminded me of every book I ever took out of the USM library, because the USM library probably hadn’t had any new purchases for it after the year I was born. But between then and now (probably some time in May, because I felt I’d need it again after the Fucktard’s first version of his own Saturday Night Massacre), I ordered a paperback copy off of Amazon. The version that came to me is the 40th Anniversary Edition, and it includes a short afterward written by Bernstein and Woodward. I’m not going to get into it fully, but the Afterward brings up the question posed by Senator Sam Ervin, chair of the Senate Watergate committee: “What was Watergate?”

Bernstein and Woodward attempt to answer that question here, albeit briefly. It wasn’t merely the burglary that occurred on June 17, 1972. And it wasn’t merely the cover-up and obstruction of justice the White House engaged in following the burglary. Bernstein and Woodward posit that Watergate consisted of the five wars Nixon waged while in office:

The war against the anti-war movement;
The war on the news media;
The war against the Democrats;
The war on the justice system;
and the war on history.

And without getting too deep into discussing the Afterward (which is well-written, and definitely worth your time), I leave you with this last quote from a well-placed CRP official, talking to Woodward:

The man seemed disaffected, disgusted with the White House and the tactics that had been used to re-elect the President. “If there was an honest and a dishonest way to do something,” he said, “and if both ways would get the same results, we picked the dishonest way … Now, tell me why anyone would do that.” [p. 265]

History doesn’t repeat itself, but by god, does it fucking rhyme.

Grade for All The President’s Men: 3.5 stars

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Non-Fiction: “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis

moneyballHi. My name is Alaina Patterson; and I love baseball.

**Note From the Future: Okay, so – this entry was going to be a review of Moneyball, but the first near-2,500 words are actually two stories: The Story Of How Alaina Came To Love Baseball, followed by The Story Of How The 2016 World Series Almost Killed Alaina. If you don’t enjoy learning about somewhat obscure baseball movies from the 1990s (no, the movie is not Field of Dreams, please check out my list at moviesalainasneverseen.com to verify that I’ve never seen it) or why I love the Cubs or a play-by-tweet of that fateful Game 7, I suggest you scroll down until you see a picture of the Fenway scoreboard – I begin talking about the book at that point. You can also save yourself the trouble and read the first (and better) review of Moneyball from when I watched the movie during Oscar!Watch.

Regardless of what you choose, thank you for choosing That’s What She Read for all of your least-effective book review needs.**

I love baseball. I love it! It’s a great game to watch! Some people complain that it’s too slow, to which I counter: It can take Tom fucking Brady eighteen minutes to advance ten yards. (I watch football, but I don’t enjoy it.) (Please, Patriots fans, don’t post statistics to counter that statement I obviously made up. I do not care.) (Yes, I know football quarters are 15 minutes long, what I’m saying is that between all the stopped clocks and interceptions and tackles and shit that 15-minute quarter drags for a fucking hour, don’t @ me.)

The rules of baseball are simple! Hit the ball, advance to base, four bases makes a run. Each run is a point. Three strikes and you’re out. Three outs end an inning. Nine innings to a game. Math!! Learning football was the worst – and a former coworker, Ken, can attest to this, as he thought it would be a good idea to try and teach me football. He learned you shouldn’t teach Alaina lessons the hard way:

Alaina: Wait, okay, so they’re on the fourth down on the goal line, and instead of trying to run it, they’re going to go for a three-point conversion?
Ken: No, Alaina, it’s a two-point conversion.
Alaina: Isn’t that a slam dunk?
Ken: That’s basketball.
Alaina: Why do we hate the San Francisco Giants again?
Ken: No, Alaina, we hate the New York Giants. The San Francisco Giants is a baseball team.
Alaina: Did you know you have a vein in your forehead that gets extra-throbby when I ask stupid questions?

So when did I first fall in love with baseball? Believe it or not, 1994 – when my dad taped Rookie of the Year off of HBO. I must have watched that movie a hundred times. And the team that young Thomas Ian Nicholas (who went on to star in the American Pie movies) and the relatively-sane-back-then Gary Busey (I know, you guys; I’m so ashamed of myself) played for?

The Chicago Cubs.

I also grew up loving Back to the Future. And in BTTF:II, Marty goes to 2015, to learn that the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series. And I vaguely remember learning of the Curse of the Goat – either my Dad told me, or I read about it somewhere. And I think, partly because I grew up a superstitious child — coupled with my love of David and Goliath stories — I kept the Cubbies close to my heart in valiant hope, and, above all, put a pin in 2015 in the hopes that Robert Zemeckis was psychic.

In the meantime, I watched and followed the Red Sox – because living in Maine, you’re not typically going to be able to watch Cubs games, unless they’re part of ESPN’s rotation. And believe me, if you even mentioned the Cubs not winning a World Series within hearing distance of a Red Sox fan, it would be a Pavlovian trigger to for them to start bitching about the Curse of the Bambino and Bill Buckner and even Bucky Fucking Dent and guys, we get it, your life sucks too, jeez.

But I still remember the elation I felt when the Sox beat the Yankees in the seventh game of the ALCS back in 2004, among other highs – Johnny Damon’s grand slam! Man, I loved Johnny Damon back then. I was so pissed when he went to the Yankees. I would yell “Noommaaaarr!” along with the televised crowd when Garciaparra would come up to the plate. Crying on my bedroom floor when the Idiots crushed the Cardinals. Oh, it was amazing.

I was at a Red Sox game where the Sox were playing the A’s – another team I used to follow, which I’ll get into in a minute, when I finally start talking about Moneyball – and Garciaparra was batting for the A’s, but Fenway, God bless ’em – all of Fenway Park stood up and gave him an ovation. Say what you will about Red Sox fans – and they are some of the worst, and I say that as someone who counts herself among them – they will cheer any one of the old-timers, so long as they don’t go play for the Yankees, Damon.

So the Red Sox win the Series three times, and in the meantime, Theo Epstein – the manager who brought the Sox to their curse-breaking win – has moved to Chicago to work with the Cubbies.

2015 comes along, and the Cubs move to the Wild Card slot. And every day, I’m posting on Facebook my glee (and also asking #WhereIsMyHoverboard). Because it’s 2015! It’s the year Marty goes to the future! It’s the year where the Cubs win the World Series! It was their density. 

Hashtag #ItsYourDensity.

In a horrible twist of fate, the Cubs lose the NLCS to the Mets — the same team they battled in Rookie of the Year! — on October 21, 2015.

The day Marty McFly arrives in the future.

Well – I guess we never realized, on all of this, that the timeline must have adjusted when Biff stole Gray’s Almanac and then Marty and Doc had to set things right again.

We’ve been in 1985-C’s future all along, guys. It just stings a bit.

(If it was any other year, I’d be rooting for the Mets equally. But this is 2015; it was supposed to be the future.)

Good game, Cubbies. And hey – maybe Marty was off a year. #ItsYourDensity
[My Facebook post on October 21, 2015.]

[Why would I be rooting for the Mets? Well, when my team goes out, I go and root for the team where I have the next-best feelings for. For instance, I will root for the San Francisco Giants, because they’re a good team, and also, Emily is from San Francisco. When it comes to the Mets, someone I follow on Tumblr is a huge Mets fan, as well as Alaina’s Eternal Forever Pretend Husband, Jon Stewart.

2015 was also the year that many Things happened: Jon Stewart left The Daily ShowHannibal was canceled; and I learned that Eddie Vedder, scourge of my soul, is apparently the third-biggest Cubs fan, after Bill Murray and Bob Newhart. I was quite torn during that NLCS: Obviously I was going to root for the Cubs, Team o’ my Heart, but it was weird rooting for a team loved by the same dude who had caused a lot of heartache for me over the years, over the favorite team of my Forever Pretend Husband.

2015 was weird.]

Fast-forward to 2016. Amongst all the terrible, heartbreaking celebrity deaths, TV show cancellations, and the horrifying shitshow that was the national election, one of the only things giving me solace was following the Cubbies. Watching Anthony Rizzo’s face when he scored runs! (He also started off playing for the Portland Seadogs – I may have watched him play in Portland and not know it!) Rizzo’s friendship with David Ross, and the stellar pitching/catching team-up that was Jon Lester and Ross! Kris Bryant’s unfairly pretty smile! JAVY BAEZ, being a FUCKING BEAST!

baez 1.gif

And then – they made it to the Division series! Beating the Giants handily, they quickly moved onto the Dodgers in the NLCS. That was an interesting week – My Dear Friend Sarah’s wedding was on the same night of the sixth game, so I again apologize for checking my MLB At Bat app every five minutes. IT WAS IMPORTANT! And hey, your wedding was good luck, because they won!

The World Series started the week Emily and I were in Florida. #EmilysDisneyDay, I ran out the battery on my phone twice refreshing my At Bat app, to learn that the Cubs had won Game 2.

This was me watching Game 3, on the road in Virginia:

(Why yes, I did splurge and get a hotel room with a soaking tub. Because I’m an adult who deserves nice things!)

I spent Game 4 on the road, driving home. My mother, bless her heart, texted me updates, which Blanche the Rental Car would read aloud to me.

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And then, Game 5. The Cubs were in the hole 3 games to 1. They needed to sweep or we’d be lost. I was home for that, and the Cubs managed to eke out a win.

Game 6, third inning. I was on my way to the fridge for a beer when I heard the dulcet tones of one of the most well-known sounds of the 1980s, and I remembered –

I have a t-shirt with “Save Ferris” on it. (Which scene, of course, took place at Wrigley Field, home of — the Cubs.) I go put it on, and IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING ME PUTTING THE SHIRT ON, Addison Russell hits a motherfucking grand slam! and the Cubs win!

And now, we’re at the big game. My Dear Friend Sarah is in on the action (at least, on Twitter), and she and I are live-tweeting the shit out of it. And holy shit – I still – anyway.

(Trust me – I would have worn it to work, but -)

So through five innings, the Save Ferris tee – and beers – are doing their job. The Cubs are CRUSHING IT! 3 to 1! 4 to 1! 5 to 1! I mean, it’s golden, guys. It’s so pretty. It’s so great.

And then, bottom of the fifth – and the Indians, god bless ’em, score. And they score HARD.

Fox had catcher David “Grandpa” Ross mic’d in the bullpen, and his buddy Anthony Rizzo goes over, and the following exchange happens:

Rizzo: I can’t control myself right now. I’m an emotional wreck.
Ross: It’s only gonna get worse.
Rizzo: I’m in a glass case of emotion right now.

Then, this happened:

(“Mizumono” is the second season finale of Hannibal, where everything goes to shit and everything is terrible and everything hurts. But in that moment, I swear to God, it would have been the balm of Gilead for me, the game was stressing me out so bad.)

Joe Maddon takes Hendricks out in the fifth inning, and brings in Jon Lester and catcher David “Grandpa Rossy” Ross in as relief. And in the top of the sixth, Ross hits a home run – his last home run, because he was retiring at the end of the season. And I cried.

Score is 6-3 Cubs for the next couple of innings. Then, at the 8th inning stretch, I post this:

And in the bottom of the 8th inning, the Indians fucking rally. RBI! Rajai Davis hits a two-run homer! Joe Madden doesn’t pull Aroldis Chapman from the inning!

I have gone completely Twitter-silent. I’m sitting on the edge of my love seat, trembling and muttering because seriously, I was almost insane.

The game is tied at the end of the 9th inning, 6 to 6. And then – the fucking rains came.

The teams go into their respective dugouts, and the tarp comes out.

In my desperation, I even offered this:

It was bleak, you guys. I had watched my team – my team! – make it to a goddamned tenth fucking inning in Game 7 of their first World Series appearance since 19-goddamned-45. I sucked down a third beer – on a Wednesday (at that time, technically, Thursday morning), which I shouldn’t have done, but oh well, who knows when this was going to happen again – and I was pretty much dying.

Unbeknownst to us at-home viewers, outfielder Jason Heyward took the opportunity during the rain delay to rally the troops. And when they came back to the plate, it was an entirely different team.

Schwarber hits a single! Rizzo got walked, sending Schwarber to second! And then Zobrist singled, driving Schwarber home! 7-6 Cubs!

Then Miggy Montero singled, driving Rizzo home! 8-6 Cubs! HOLY SHIT!

Then the Indians came back. They just needed to hold the line for three more outs. I am on the floor in between my love seat and TV, rocking myself and fervently praying to an angry god. The Indians score another run, and I am dying.

And then:

110216_bill_murray_reaction_med_sjhcb0y7dugout

SO. MUCH. CRYING.

I cried for half an hour straight. I was inconsolable in my joy. I am crying again right now.

You guys – you don’t even know. It was fucking amazing. I couldn’t – I can’t put it into words. How wonderful it was. How wonderful it is.

Do you want to experience joy? Watch this:

SO MANY HAPPY PEOPLE.

SPOILER ALERT!: I did not call in sick the next day. I should have, but I did not.

So. Hopefully that clears up why and how much I love the Cubs and how much the World Series meant to me.

If you would like to see an accurate representation in video form of How Alaina Watched Game Seven of the 2016 World Series, go ahead and watch this gem:

And please enjoy – and sing along – with the happiest song on earth.

And by now, those of you who have put up with my rambling, you can probably appreciate how how proud I am that I didn’t outright punch the Lids dudebro in the face when he tried to mansplain my own goddamned love of the Cubs back to me when I bought my hat back in April this year:

Dudebro: What’s your favorite team?
Alaina: The Chicago Cubs.
Dudebro: Oh really? Why, because you like Back to the Future?
Alaina: Uh, no … I like the team. I like rooting for underdogs.
Dudebro: Oh, so you rooted for the Red Sox until 2004?
Alaina:
almost-angry-mads-mikkelsen-34561344-384-216

hanni jumpy
Missy: HEY ALAINA LET’S GO GET SOME CUPCAKES

I was so angry, I bought four cupcakes instead of one. NO REGRETS, MOTHERFUCKER!

But at least I was able to represent my team when I went to see the Cubs play the Red Sox at Fenway this year.

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Also, I was wearing the Save Ferris shirt that day, and when the Cubs won (GO CUBS GO!), it was determined that the Save Ferris shirt is actually Magic.

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(Also, Eddie Vedder was at the same game and NO ONE DIED. And in case anyone’s wondering, I can almost confirm: the Cubs winning the World Series may have ended the Curse of Eddie Vedder. Because I haven’t heard “betterman” hardly AT ALL since the Cubs won, and nothing monumentally bad has happened.)

OKAY. SO. WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MONEYBALL

Moneyball is written by the same person who wrote The Big Short. Michael Lewis has a financial background, and in this book, he applies that not just to baseball, but to one of the most unlikely seasons seen in recent baseball history: the 2002 Oakland Athletics.

The Oakland A’s – one of the first teams I rooted for, because a) they weren’t the Red Sox, but b) were in the same league as the Red Sox, and c) were geographically close enough to the San Francisco Giants that I could almost still use my friend Emily as an excuse. The A’s were managed by Billy Beane, who was driving internal baseball experts crazy with his draft picks and managing style. At this time in the early 2000s, the era of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, every team was looking for their Big Hitter. The Red Sox had just signed (or were about to sign) Manny Ramirez and David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Jeter was starting to make a name for himself. And the A’s had just lost Johnny Damon to the Red Sox; Jason Giambi went to the Yankees.

Instead of going after other big arms, Beane focused on players who played positions well and got to first base. This thought was anathema to traditional baseball thoughts:

For Billy and Paul and, to a slightly lesser extent, Erik and Chris, a young player is not what he looks like, or what he might become, but what he has done. As elementary as that might sound to someone who knew nothing about professional baseball, it counts as heresy here. [p. 38]

Most scouts would look at a high school or college player and say, “he plays okay now, but as he grows and trains, imagine what he’ll do”. Beane was saying, “look at his stats, and pick people on what they have proven to do well”. This was practically heresy for baseball.

Beane practiced sabermetrics, which took a statistical look at baseball and tried to apply it to being able to win more games. And Beane’s devotion to his craft led to the Oakland A’s winning 20 games in a row in 2002 – the fourth-longest winning streak in major league history, and the best since 1935 (who had the longest streak in that year, with 21? The Chicago Cubs).

One of my favorite things about baseball is how overjoyed everyone gets when they seriously win. The World Series, or the 20th game in a winning streak, breaking an American League record – the happiness that comes from that type of event is so heartwarming.

This is the story of Beane’s draft pick, Scott Hatteburg (“Hatty”), driving in the winning home run in the 20th game:

The second pitch is another fastball, but it’s high in the strike zone. Hatty takes his short swing; the ball finds the barrel of his bat, and rockets into deep right center field.

He leaves the batter’s box in a crouching run. He’s moving just as fast as he does when he hits a slow roller to the third baseman. He doesn’t see Grimsley [the pitcher] raging. He doesn’t hear fifty-five thousand fans erupting. He doesn’t notice the first baseman turning to leave the field. He doesn’t know that there’s a fellow from Cooperstown following him around the bases, picking them up, and will soon come looking for his bat. The only one in the entire Coliseum who does not know where the ball is going is the man who hit it. Scott Hatteberg alone watches the ball soar through the late night air with something like detachment.

The ball doesn’t just leave the park; it lands high up in the stands, fifty feet or so beyond the 362 sign in deep right center field. When he’s finally certain that the ball is gone for good, Scott Hatteberg raises both hands over his head, less in triumph than disbelief. Rounding first, he looks into the Oakland dugout. But there’s no one left inside – the players are all rushing onto the field. Elation transforms him. He shouts at his teammates. He’s not saying: Look what I just did. He’s saying: Look what we just did! We won! As he runs, he sheds years at the rate of about one every twenty feet. By the time he reaches home plate, he’s less man than boy.

And, not five minutes later, Billy Beane was able to look me in the eye and say that it was just another win. [p. 261-262]

oprah_happy_tears

Now, I’ve talked a lot about what I love about baseball. But before I close, I have to mention one thing I hate: the broadcasters who call baseball games, and of those, Joe Fucking Buck.

(I do not know why I hate Joe Buck so …. much… I …

flames

I JUST DO. GOD, he bugs the everloving fuck out of me. ALSO, HE SAID ‘IRREGARDLESS’ ON A NATIONAL BROADCAST, AND WE ALL KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT ‘IRREGARDLESS’)

Ahem.

Joe Buck aside, my LEAST FAVORITE THING is when people say “the tying run is on deck.”

Art Howe virtually leaps out of the dugout to yank Chad from the game. On his way to his seat on the bench Chad stares at the ground, and works to remain expressionless. He came in with a six-run lead. He leaves with the tying run in the on-deck circle.  [p. 256]

And it’s not just the “tying run” bullshit – broadcasters love to assign meaning to shit. Here’s an example from Moneyball, where Joe Morgan assigned cause to the absolute wrong action on the field. Twice.

Down 5-4 in the eighth inning, Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano had gotten himself on base and stolen second. Derek Jeter then walked, and Jason Giambi singled in Soriano. Bernie Williams then hit a three-run homer. A reasonable person, examining that sequence of events, says, “Whew, thank God Soriano didn’t get caught stealing; it was, in retrospect, a stupid risk that could have killed the whole rally.” Joe Morgan looked at it and announced that Soriano stealing second, the only bit of “manufacturing” in the production line, was the cause. Amazingly, Morgan concluded that day’s lesson about baseball strategy by saying, “You sit and wait for a three-run homer, you’re still going to be sitting there.”

But the wonderful thing about this little lecture was what happened right under Joe Morgan’s nose, as he was giving it. Ray Durham led off the game for Oakland with a walk. He didn’t attempt to steal, as Morgan would have him do. Scott Hatteberg followed Durham and he didn’t bunt, as Morgan would have him do. He smashed a double. A few moments later, Eric Chavez hit a three-run homer. And Joe Morgan’s lecture on the need to avoid playing for the three-run homer just rolled right along, as if the play on the field had not dramatically contradicted every word that had just come out of his mouth.  That day the A’s walked and swatted their way to nine runs, and a win … Two days later in Minnesota, before the third game, Joe Morgan made the same speech all over again.  [p. 271-272]

Like playwrights, all national baseball broadcasters should be dead for three hundred years.

Anyway. Let me tie this all back to the Cubs, because I’ve written entirely too much about baseball and not enough about the book. At the end of the A’s season that year, Billy Beane is offered the general manager job of the Boston Red Sox.

All that remained was for Billy to sign the Red Sox contract. And he couldn’t do it.

**The job went to Theo Epstein, the twenty-eight-year-old Yale graduate with no experience playing professional baseball. [p. 279 & footnote]

Theo Epstein. The sabermetrics wunderkind who went on to lead the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series win after 84 years in 2004. Twelve years later, he’d do the same for the Cubs.

Grade for Moneyball: 4 stars
Grade for the 2016 Chicago Cubs: eleventy million hearts

Fiction: “North and South” by Elizabeth Gaskell

north & southOkay – six books (including this one) till the end of 2016. I can do this. Hopefully before the end of 2017. But hey, good news – looks like the Maine government’s going to shut down for a few days over budget talks, so I may be able to wrap this backlog up wicked quick!

My glee is sarcastic, be tee dubs. You do NOT want to get me started about the stupid antics over the budget up in here. Ridiculous.

Anyways … I had originally read this book as part of my 19th Century British Novel class in college. It was kind of a topics course, but not really? It was offered every semester, but depending on the professor it covered different aspects. It certainly wasn’t offered as a topics course – you could only take it once, for example. I don’t know, it was eons ago. But in my class, we read Jane Eyre (the second time in college for me), North and SouthDracula, and Bleak House. I think we were also supposed to read The Mill on the Floss and there were some essays in there as well, but I remember we skipped The Mill on the Floss because we were getting behind.

That was also the semester I was taking like, four English courses? I want to say that was the semester I decided to cram in 19th Century Brit Lit, Shakespeare (the Histories, that semester), Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales, and was that the semester I also took the topics course in Women in Detective Fiction? It may have been. So, with all the reading I decided to do, guess how many of those novels above I actually finished?

Jane Eyre and North and South. I didn’t bother to tackle Dracula again, because I felt I had parts of it memorized; Bleak House I got through half (and then ended up watching most of the BBC miniseries starring Gillian Anderson as Lady Deadlock, but stopped watching before Jarndyce proposed to Esther and I was so sad knowing that she’d eventually leave him that I didn’t want to see that).

Oh – we also had Jude the Obscure that semester, and I read like, three pages. I WAS BUSY.

We focused on the difference between “beauty” and “the sublime”. I am dialing it down to what I remember – which is probably incorrect, but guess what, I think I’ve finally paid that semester off, I ain’t going back – but “the sublime” is what people should strive for, because being “sublime” is being better than beautiful. Like, “beauty” is just “pretty”, there’s no substance beneath it. “Sublime” has power and a different energy.

Look, read this Wikipedia article if you’re interested. There’s definitely more to it than what I just said; you can also read the article that I just remember reading (thanks, Wikipedia!), A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful if you’re still intrigued. We spent a lot of time discussing descriptions of rooms and landscapes and trying to figure out if they were “beautiful” or “sublime”, and whether that informed our interpretation of the scene.

Before picking North and South again, I could tell you that it was about a girl whose family moved from the South of England to a manufacturing town in North England, and the culture shock of both the town and the people there that she deals with. Luckily, I was not misremembering the plot. I know we made a big deal about the descriptions of the town (whose name I will look up shortly – the book is in another room and I’m comfortable and on a roll) versus those of the South. But I also remember that I enjoyed the main romance in the novel.

So in keeping with a) the fact that I was still neck-deep in silly little romance novels I was reading through the year and b) it was October, and therefore, time for The Fall Classic (AND BOY OH BOY DO I HAVE STORIES ABOUT THE OTHER, REAL, FALL CLASSIC I LIVED WITH – STAY TUNED FOR A REREAD OF Moneyball WHICH WILL BE ALL IN CAPSLOCK ABOUT THE CHICAGO CUBS), I dragged North and South out of my Classics bookcase and dug in.

The main character is Margaret Hale, who grew up in Helstone with her family; her father was a pastor (or, English version of pastor). At the beginning of the novel, Margaret returns to Helstone after spending some time in London. Her father has had a crisis of conscience, and is leaving the Church of England as a dissenter. Additionally, as there is no place for him in society now, he is moving his family (save Margaret’s brother, Frederick, who has his own shit, being wanted for mutiny) to the industrial town of Milton-Northern, where he will be a tutor and intellectual cornerstone of that town. Margaret accompanies her parents on their trip to the north, as she is unwed and that is literally her only option.

She is struck by the dirtiness of the town – which it would be, because this novel is set in the thick of the Industrial Revolution, and worker’s rights isn’t a thing; neither is being environmentally-conscious. (It’s apparently not a thing now either UNLESS YOU LIVE ANY-THE-FUCK-WHERE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE GODDAMNED WORLD take a breath alaina you’ll be okay YEAH BUT MY HYPOTHETICAL CHILDREN WON’T BUT WHY SHOULD WE CARE WE ELECTED A FUCKING SENTIENT CHEETO DIPPED IN NAPALM WHY WOULD WE take a FUCKING BREATH, ALAINA)

bella slap

thanks – I needed that.

Anyhoodle. One of Margaret’s father’s first students is John Thornton, manager of one of the textile mills in Milton-Northern. He lives with his mother and sister, and takes Greek lessons from Margaret’s father after hours.

(I feel like I should mention: I’m currently watching the BBC version of North and South on Netflix, because it’s been so long since I read yada yada you all know the words by now. I can’t imagine there’s not a lot of difference between this and the book; plus, Thornton is played by Richard Armitage, who played the Great Red Dragon in Hannibal – so, yay!)

The biggest part of the novel is a subtle-at-times social commentary on the different societal norms Margaret has to maneuver through. Not just the different, northern accent and words, but how to act. In Helstone, Margaret would bring baskets of food to new neighbors to get to know them; here, in Milton, her new friend Bess wonders, “why would you bring a basket? We’ve got nothing to put in it!”

(That may not have been in the book. Also, I seriously can’t get over how the actress playing Mrs. Thornton looks a lot like Ian McShane in a dress. So. Weird.)

Thornton feels himself drawn to Margaret, but can’t understand her ways. Margaret, meanwhile, can’t seem to fathom the customs of Thornton’s land.

When Mr Thornton rose up to go away, after shaking hands with Mr and Mrs Hale, he made an advance to Margaret to wish her good-bye in a similar manner. It was the frank familiar custom of the place; but Margaret was not prepared for it. She simply bowed her farewell; although the instant she saw the hand, half put out, quickly drawn back, she was sorry she had not been aware of the intention. Mr Thornton, however, knew nothing of her sorrow, and, drawing himself up to his full height, walked off, muttering as he left the house —

“A more proud, disagreeable girl I never saw. Even her great beauty is blotted out of one’s memory by her scornful ways.” [p. 86]

Look at that – classic miscommunication in action! Two people, having a conversation (this time, using body language) where each means something through their actions but their meaning is misheard by the other party, because the other party doesn’t have the appropriate context in which to place and interpret the message! And the omniscient narrator, right there in the middle of everything, can’t reach out to Thornton and Margaret and bop them on the head to get their shit together, because they’re not real, and also, it’s not the narrator’s job! Oh man – sometimes art imitates life imitates art, amiright?

North and South is a commentary on many different topics, masquerading as a romance between cultures. There’s the disparity between the north and the south, in appearance, in culture, in society, in knowledge; there’s the attempt at reconciling the two, and Margaret learning where she fits — at the end of the novel, Margaret returns to London and finds herself completely bored with her previous life. There are also discussion on labor laws, and labor strikes, and the ability for a worker to attempt to make a better life for himself, in spite of what he’s been given.

And how does this all tie into the discussion I had about “beauty” and “the sublime” up at the top? Well, in her travels and new knowledge, Margaret learns to find the beauty in Milton, where, ostensibly, there wouldn’t be any. The town is filthy, people die of fluff in their lungs left over from the textile mills, smokestacks are constantly belching smoke so much that she is continuously washing the walls of their apartment. But given the opportunity to return to her relatively hoity life in the South, Margaret finds her life lacking. Surrounded by traditional beauty – measured beauty, marked out in perfectly-tended gardens, greens and blues and other colors – she finds herself yearning for the sublime Milton – grey upon grey upon grey, and all shades with a dash of violence, whether it be actual fights between the strikers and the bosses, or just consider the violence found in a smokestack expelling smoke. That’s where she belongs – she prefers the sublime and the rough edges and the different beauty to a more traditional perception.

It’s so nice to see a college course I took didn’t go to waste.

Grade for North and South: 4 stars

Fiction: “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

northangerWhen October rolled around, it was time to pick my next Fall Classic. And while my pick for the actual Fall Classic fell slightly short of the goal (IT WAS 2015, THE CUBBIES WERE FATED TO GO TO THE WORLD SERIES, MARTY MCFLY SAID IT WAS SO – why no, I’m not over it yet, why do you ask?), my literature Fall Classic was a poor attempt at trying to come full circle with my (admittedly, thanks to hindsight) poor choice for May Classic Literature Month.

Remember, for 2015’s selection, I elected to read The Mysteries of Udolpho. I am still kicking myself for that library choice. I mean, I just tallied up the books I read last year, and I’m two shy of 2014’s total, and I’m sorry, Ann Radcliffe, but I’m putting all that fault on your shoulders. If I wasn’t so busy reading about Lady Emily having hysterics I could have finished — who knows? Five more books? Seven? I could have hit forty, you bitch.

Ahem.

ANYWAY. When October came around, I realized it only made sense that I should read Northanger Abbey — after all, Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen’s open attempt at satirizing Ann Radcliffe’s master work.

Northanger Abbey was one of the first novels Ms. Austen wrote, but it was only published after her death. The heroine is Miss Catherine Morland, a charming yet naive country girl who gets the chance to experience a Bath season. She is introduced to society at the Pump Room (a Thing in Bath – where debutantes paraded around a fountain and gossiped about everyone else) and becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe, who appears to be a great role model of the upper class to which Catherine aspires. Spoiler alert!: she’s not.

Isabella’s kind of a bitch – she becomes fast friends with Catherine because Catherine’s too naive to see through her Regina George-esque facade. Well, she’s like Regina George only if Regina George was a manipulative husband-hunter.

Maybe she’s more like Karen:

“Very well, Catherine. […] I have not forgot your description of Mr. Tilney — ‘a brown skin, with dark eyes, and rather dark hair.’ Well, my taste is different. I prefer light eyes, and as to complexion — do you know — I like a sallow better than any other.” [p. 47]

So she likes sickly men that she can easily overpower; that’s how I’m interpreting that sentence.

Catherine’s afore-mentioned Mr. Tilney is Henry Tilney, a young parson who has accompanied his sister Eleanor to Bath for the season. (I should mention that in Jane Austen-land, a country parson is someone who can still marry and flirt with girls – we’re not talking a Catholic priest or a Jesuit monk, here.) They hit it off quickly, although Isabella’s brother John also develops an attraction to Catherine. Isabella, meanwhile, begins to fall for Catherine’s brother James. The Thorpes’s attraction is derived completely from a falsehood going through Bath that the Morlands are extremely rich, however.

It all sounds pretty sedate, right? Basically it’s what a modern-day take on a historical romance sounds like. Two fast friends find each other becoming nearly related and one of the girls has a secret admirer. It’s all very quaint. But here’s what Jane Austen’s doing – she’s satirizing the whole damn thing.

Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen’s treatise on what should happen to silly little girls who read too many novels. And in creating that treatise, she tried to put in as many “silly little novel” tropes as possible: the Naive Everygirl; the Love Triangle; the Lemony Narrator, even. And then she subverted them, or heightened them to the point of parody.

Catherine, who is such a fierce lover of literature – including The Mysteries of Udolpho, which, true confessions, I almost typed that just now as “The Musteries of Udolpho,” which implies that Udolpho smells really mildew-ey — automatically goes to the Most Dramatic Option when presented with something that could have even the slightest hint of mystery. When she visits with the Tilneys and finds a large wardrobe in her room, she doesn’t assume it’s a guest wardrobe; she believes she’s going to find something ghastly and suspenseful inside. She gets herself so worked up that when she finds a key in a keyhole and turns it to open it, she actually locks it on herself, and then takes about five minutes before she tries turning it the other way. And when she finally peers inside the drawer, what does she see? Not the desiccated hand of a long-lost Tilney ancestor, but an actual, honest-to-God laundry list. It is a list of laundry items.

That might not seem very funny to us as a modern-day reader; but to someone of Ms. Austen’s time, when The Mysteries of Udolpho and its ilk were the height of literature and there was nothing funny about them, the tricks Ms. Austen pulls on the reader becomes that much sharper and cleaner. General Tilney is oppressive and taciturn – maybe he’s a robber baron like Count Montoni! Oh no wait, he’s just a snob, who also heard the lie about the Morlands being rich. Wait, where does General Tilney go during the day – up to his dead wife’s room? Maybe she’s still alive! So then Catherine goes sneaking around to try and find a maybe-not-so-dead wife, only to be discovered in the act by Henry. But instead of cutting her out of his life for her crazy ideas – because General Tilney actually loved his wife and is still mourning the loss of her, that’s where he’s going, he’s leaving you for some goddamned peace and quiet, Miss Morland! (sorry) – instead, Henry gently mocks her and her propensity to turn the Drama Dial on everything up to 11. In Udolpho, Lady Emily cuts Vaillancourt out of her life when she hears about his gambling without giving him a chance to explain himself. Here, Henry actually listens to Catherine and finds her overactive imagination charming.

Ms. Austen, in her role as narrator, also takes stabs at the fact that Udolpho and its contemporaries are overly long. For instance, our introduction to Isabella Thorpe’s mother:

Mrs. Thorpe was a widow, and not a very rich one; she was a good-humored, well-meaning woman, and a very indulgent mother. Her eldest daughter had great personal beauty, and the younger ones, by pretending to be as handsome as their sister, imitating her air, and dressing in the same style, did very well.

This brief account of the family is intended to supersede the necessity of a long and minute detail from Mrs. Thorpe herself, of her past adventures and sufferings, which might otherwise be expected to occupy the three or four following chapters; in which the worthlessness of lords and attornies might be set forth, and conversations, which had passed twenty years before, be minutely repeated. [40]

Dear Mrs. Radcliffe: can I get you some ice for that BURN? (But it’s true, it’s totally, one million percent true.)

Finally, because this is Alaina’s blog called That’s What She Read, and I am the most twelve, you can only imagine how hard I laughed while I read this otherwise-innocuous paragraph about John Thorpe’s curricle:

“What do you think of my gig, Miss Morland? A neat one, is it not? Well hung; town built; I have not had it a month. It was built for a Christchurch man, a friend of mine, a very good sort of fellow; he ran it a few weeks, till, I believe, it was convenient to have done with it.” [p. 51]

The first time I read Northanger Abbey, I didn’t have the background of The Mysteries of Udolpho. I’m not sure I even knew it was a real book, to be honest. But now that I’ve read both, knowing Udolpho definitely strengthens Northanger Abbey for me. It’s funnier, smarter – knowing the past heightens the present.

That’s not to say that The Mysteries of Udolpho is a piece of shit that should be mocked; just because I didn’t like it and my opinion of the book closely paired with Miss Austen’s opinion of the book which in turn made me enjoy Northanger Abbey more doesn’t mean that someone else might have the opposite opinion. (Right? Right.) After all, I read new books for the adventure – I won’t really know if I’ll like it until I try. And even when I don’t have a favorable opinion of a book after reading it, the pleasure of reading is always present.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with this conversation between Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney:

“But you never read novels, I dare say?”

“Why not?”

“Because they are not clever enough for you — gentlemen read better books.”

“The person, be it a gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” [p. 107]

Well said, Mr. Tilney; well said.

Grade for Northanger Abbey: 4 stars

Fiction: “The Mysteries of Udolpho” by Ann Radcliffe

mysteries of udolphoA few months ago, my friend Erica read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I had read it a few years ago, and it was getting time to make my selection for Spring Classic Literature Month. Well, I was perusing the shelves of the Yarmouth Library after returning Babayaga, and came across The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. This book was actually mentioned by the characters in Northanger Abbey numerous times, as it is the favorite novel of the lead character Catherine. And Northanger Abbey was in the back of my mind, and this book was free and I’d never read it before, so … hey! Synergy!

Please feel free to add this title to the list of Bad Decisions Alaina’s Made In Life.

Look, I’ve read a lot of classic literature in my day, but oh man – this was like, 700 pages of nothingThe Mysteries of Udolpho is supposed to be the first Gothic novel, and I kept waiting for some suspense? But after reading Red Dragon or, fuck it, Dracula, this book was a snooze fest.

As evidence, please look at the fact that it took me ten weeks to read this. TEN FUCKING WEEKS.

So the plot, as she is horribly, horribly overwritten: Emily St. Aubert lives with her father in the South of France (I think). After her mother dies, she and her father take a tour of the rest of the south of France as part of their bereavement tour or whatever. On the trip, they meet a chevalier (traveling knight) named Vaillancourt. Emily and Vaillancourt fall in love on, like, page 109, and then Emily’s father dies and Emily gets sent to live with her Aunt, Madame Chernon. Madame Chernon disapproves of Vaillancourt, so she forbids them to be together. Then she relents because she finds out Vaillancourt has wealthy connections. Meanwhile, Madame Chernon is wooed by Count Montoni, who appears to be some suave Italian motherfucker. Well, Madame Chernon agrees to marry Count Montoni, does so by stealing the wedding plans of Emily and Vaillancourt, then forbids Emily from continuing her relationship with Vaillancourt. Count Montoni then removes his new wife and Emily to his palace in Venice, where we come to learn that Montoni? is actually a dick.

He’s a leader of the dreaded Italian Bandits, which would make a great name for a rock band. But really, he’s a thief and a murderer. He attempts to sell Emily’s hand in marriage to a Count Morano, but when that deal goes belly-up, he takes the entire “family” up to his palace in the region known as Udolpho.

The Udolpho palace is full of secrets – it’s like Gretchen Weiners’ hair. Emily and her chambermaid, Annette, get into all sorts of adventures. And when I say “adventures,” I mean “forty pages of Annette rambling and Emily saying she doesn’t want to hear it but then says okay sure, I’ll listen, and then they walk through the halls of the castle and see weird shit which will all be explained as not paranormal whatsoever in about five hundred pages.”

While they are imprisoned in Udolpho, Madame Chernon passes away – oh, shit, spoiler alert, I guess – and then Montoni pressures Emily into giving up the land she inherited from her aunt. But Emily refuses, because she’s moral or whatever. Anyway, one night she thinks she hears the voice of her beloved Vaillancourt, but it turns out that it’s another dude from her region of France, who has been imprisoned by Montoni. Not too much later from that, Emily, her maid Annettte, this other dude, and Annette’s boyfriend Ludovico escape from Udolpho and end up at the mansion of a friend named … George, I guess. (I’m wrong, but it’s an easy name to make up and the book’s been back at the library for a month now and I’m not going to look it up.) George had apparently run into Vaillancourt in Paris, and Emily’s boyfriend had managed to turn into a bit of a gambler, so George tells her to cut him loose because he’s a bad egg. When Vaillancourt returns to plead his case, she refuses him.

But after another hundred pages of back and forth, Emily realizes that Vaillancourt was only gambling to make money to help pay off her debts to her servants and other shit, so his morality is restored and they end up married or whatever.

See?  It took me not even 1000 words to give the major points of the plot. Why was this book nearly 700 pages long?

Well, it would have been shorter if Mrs. Radcliffe knew how to use the comma properly.

No, for reals. And while I recognize that this was written nearly three hundred years ago and common grammatical structure has evolved, THERE ARE ENTIRELY TOO MANY COMMAS IN THIS BOOK.

I decided to turn it into a game after I read this sentence:

The immense pine-forests, which, at that period, overhung these mountains, and between which the road wound, excluded all view but of the cliffs aspiring above, except, that, now and then, an opening through the dark woods allowed the eye a momentary glimpse of the country below. [p. 224]

I MEAN. So, as I continued to read – because I don’t give up on books, not anymore – I decided to see if I could find the sentence in the novel that had the most commas.

BEHOLD:

Beneath the dark and spreading branches, appeared, to the north, and to the east, the woody Apennines, rising in majestic amphitheatre, not black with pines, as she had been accustomed to see them, but their loftiest summits crowned with antient forests of chesnut, oak, and oriental plane, now animated with the rich tints of autumn, and which swept downward to the valley uninterruptedly, except where some bold rocky promontory looked out from among the foliage, and caught the passing gleam. [p. 413]

That is one entire sentence, folks. It has 14 – FOURTEEN – commas in that one sentence. That’s … entirely too many commas.

Let’s see, what else can I talk about – oh, how about how Annette the Maid is so annoying, even the saintly main character Emily hates her? Okay, maybe “hates” is a strong word, but she does delight in poking fun at Annette who is too stupid to realize it.

“Down this passage, ma’amselle ; this leads to a back stair-case. O! if I see any thing, I shall be frightened out of my wits!”

“That will scarcely be possible,” said Emily … [p. 232]

“But the story went round, and many strange reports were spread, so very strange, ma’amselle, that I shall not tell them.”

“That is stranger still, Annette,” said Emily … [p. 238]

Another thing I love about reading old books? What was probably very tame and normal back then sounds really dirty now.

Madame La Comtesse had often deep play at her house, which she affected to restrain, but secretly encouraged … [294]

“I have myself seen the Chevalier engaged in deep play with men, whom I almost shuddered to look upon.” [507]

“Deep play” is defined in the notes as “gambling,” which is such a buzzkill.

Oh, and Ms. Radcliffe attempts to break the novel up by inserting poetry. And if one of those poems have a verse that sounds dirty, well, Alaina’s going to take note of it:

Neptune for this oft binds me fast
To rocks below, with coral chain,
Till all the tempest’s over-past,
And drowning seamen cry in vain. [181]

Overall, the entire book suffers from histrionics which were probably considered the height of literature three hundred years ago, but today reads horribly. I can step back and appreciate it for what it was during its time, but am I ever going to read this again? Hell no.

Grade for The Mysteries of Udolpho: 1 star

(the star is for the That’s What She Said moments the book provided; that’s it.)

Fiction: “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton

house of mirthSo after I finished Nickel and Dimed, it was October. And looking back – because that’s the type of idiot I am – I realized that October was typically a month where I would dig out a classic work of literature, for one reason or another (see: Brave New World, which killed two birds with one Banned Book stone; and The Mayor of Casterbridge). I decided – rather capriciously, to be honest – to create another Theme Month. And so, from here and in perpetuity, let October be henceforth known as: The Fall Classic.

(Which is also, apparently, the other name of the World Series. But whatever, right?)

I had purchased The House of Mirth years ago, after watching the Gillian Anderson-starring film adaptation. It has been so long since I’ve watched that movie that I could no longer remember the plot, and since none of the rest of the classics I own inspired me, I decided to read this one. Also, if you don’t like Gillian Anderson, I don’t think we can be friends.

The House of Mirth, first and foremost, is a tragedy. The introduction lets us know up front that this tale will not have a happy ending. Our story takes place after the turn of the last century in New York City’s society, and our tragic heroine is Lily Bart, the orphan of parents who lost their money through reckless spending. When her parents pass away, Lily is sent to live with her maiden aunt in the hope of finding a suitable husband.

For in that day and age, the only acceptable future for a woman of Lily’s pedigree lay in achieving a good, solid marriage. But while Lily wants – nay, requires – the financial stability a marriage would bring, she desires her own independence more.

When we first meet Lily, she is dashing across Grand Central Station to meet up with her longtime friend, Lawrence Seldon. She does have another train to catch that evening, a train that will take her to the country home of her other dear friend, Judy Trenor. But during the layover, she’d love to have Seldon get her up to speed on his Americana collection, in the hopes of using that knowledge to get Mr. Percy Gryce, an incredibly wealthy nerd and another guest of Mrs. Trenor, to propose marriage to her.

This is one example of Lily’s smarts: she knows exactly which avenue to take in order to get men to notice her and her flirting skills are unparalleled. She can easily maneuver among the elite caste of New York society to which she aspires to belong. Sadly, her downfall is her inability to compromise her convictions. Because just when her future with Mr. Gryce is all but secured – all she needs to do is accompany him to church and he will propose to her – she oversleeps. So she decides to wait for him to return to the Trenor house via the country lane, and when she runs into Selden, she decides to take a walk with him rather than wait for Mr. Gryce.

Why doesn’t she marry Seldon, you ask? Well for one, he’s never proposed to her. Secondly, while she does care for him, and he for her, she is well aware of her fiscal shortcomings and doesn’t want to burden him with them. Furthermore, Seldon has stated that when he does marry, he wants it to be for love.

So after this walk with Seldon, she completely loses her chance with Mr. Gryce. Lily borrows the gig and goes to pick up Judy’s husband, Gus, at the train station. During the ride home, Lily alludes to her money troubles, and Gus offers to invest her funds in Wall Street for her. She readily agrees, and in almost no time at all, Gus hands her a check for $9,000.

But then Gus starts cornering Lily at gatherings, and trying to get her alone. Rumors start flying, and Lily tries her best to avoid him. But when she receives a note from Judy, telling her to visit after 10 one night, and when Lily arrives she learns that Gus sent the note and Judy’s not even in town, Gus makes it explicitly clear that he gave her $9,000, that he never invested her money, and now he expects repayment in the form of an affair. Lily stalks out, and her exit is seen by Selden, who puts two and two together and doesn’t go see Lily the next day as he had originally requested.

Lily’s other main foe in her story is Mrs. Bertha Dorset. Mrs. Dorset had had an affair with Lawrence until he broke it off or she got bored. One day, a servant found letters from Mrs. Dorset, sent to Selden, and she sells the letters to Lily. Lily holds on to those letters, partly hoping to use them in order to get a leg up on Mrs. Dorset, but also holds on to them so they don’t get out, as Selden is also involved.

When Selden doesn’t show up, Lily is greeted by another acquaintance, Mr. Rosedale. Mr. Rosedale aspires to great social heights, and having Lily Bart on his arm would be an amazing get for him. He would get his social acceptance – Mrs. Wharton clearly identifies Mr. Rosedale as Jewish nearly any chance she gets, and therefore makes it clear that only WASPs typically succeeded in New York society – and Lily would get her financial stability. Lily hesitates, because he’s Jewish and she doesn’t love him, and in the middle of her hesitancy the Dorsets invite Lily to accompany them on a European tour.

And why does Mrs, Dorset invite Lily, of all people, to Europe? Why to distract her husband while she runs around with another young dude. Lily is completely oblivious to Mrs. Dorset’s goings-on, and is a true friend to Mr. Dorset. Until Mr. Dorset tells Lily that he knows everything, that Bertha’s shtupping whatever the dude’s name was, and he plans on getting a divorce. Lily manages to run into Selden in Monte Carlo and she tells him what she knows, and his heart melts once more and urges her to get out of town immediately. But Lily decides to wait until the morning, but that is one night too late; that very night, Bertha announces to everyone, including Lily, that Lily is not returning to the yacht. And just like that, any social cache Lily had is gone.

Lily returns to New York as her aunt passes away, and the hopes of receiving her legacy are dashed when the will is read and all of her aunt’s inheritance save ten thousand dollars goes to her cousin. Lily is removed from her home, and goes to be a secretary for a new-money up-and-comer. But when the woman’s morals clash with Lily’s own, she leaves her employ and goes to work as a milliner’s apprentice.

That’s Lily’s tragedy – her morals are in complete contradiction to Society’s. At any time, she could have blackmailed Bertha into supporting her through the use of her letters. She could have explained the Gus Trenor situation to Selden – that she thought he had invested her money, not given her a loan with sex as his repayment plan. She could have married Rosedale when he asked her instead of running away to Europe. But in not compromising her morals to Society’s needs, she doomed her own ability to live.

Huh. Apparently, the title comes from a line from the Bible: “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecc. 7-4). (I said “huh” back there because I’m not a Bible reader.) But the significance of the title now makes a whole lotta sense. Poor Lily Bart is truly a fool, as she struggles to maintain a foothold in Society – the true House of Mirth. And her foolishness and inability to truly become one of the horrible, cold women within that House is her downfall.

Grade for The House of Mirth: 4 stars

Fiction: “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel García Márquez

Time of CholeraApparently I have a knack for creating things without even thinking about it.  American History Month started in the same way: I looked back at the past couple of years, realized I had started a trend, and then decided to continue that trend because dammit, trends are cool.  Recently, I found another one: In May of 2012, I had read Great Expectations.  Last May, I read The Great Gatsby.  Suddenly, I had apparently made May “Classic Literature Month” at That’s What She Read without even realizing it.

So when this year rolled around, I didn’t really know where I was going to go: I had read Dracula kind of out of sequence (although I guess one could argue that I was getting all Halloween-ey up in here), and lord knows I have tons of classics I could read, but nothing was really jumping out at me – mainly because I couldn’t find any more classic novels with the word “Great” in the title.  I was also knee-deep in books borrowed from the library, and could easily pick up something I didn’t own.

And then Gabriel García Márquez passed away in April.  I felt horrible, because I did not realize he was still alive.  I was brought back to my sophomore year of high school, where the curriculum was supposedly literature from other cultures — I say “supposedly” because it was my first year of Honors-level English, and I seem to remember watching a lot more movies than our counterparts did.  I remember doing a section on fairy tales, I definitely remember having to read Crime and Punishment – who makes a bunch of sixteen-year-olds read that?? -, and we had to read One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Honestly, I was going to re-read that book for this past May’s edition of Classic Literature Month – it seemed appropriate following the death of Márquez, and it has been more than … oh man, so many years I don’t even want to attach a number to it since sophomore year, that re-reading it would really be like reading it for the first time.  I mean, let’s be real: I don’t remember too much about the plot of Hundred Years beyond the fact that all the characters had the same name and the whole thing was rather incesty.

But when I took my copy of A Hundred Years of Solitude out of my classics bookcase (because yes, I have a bookcase dedicated solely to classic literature), I realized that the copy I had picked up at a book sale would deteriorate into dust if I sneezed on it wrong, and the pollen is really bad this time of year.  So I tried to find a copy at the library, but all the copies were checked out.  But his other novel, Love in the Time of Cholera was there, so I checked that out and then took three weeks to read it.

Love in the Time of Cholera tells the story of the love between Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.  Florentino falls in love with Fermina when they’re both very young.  They carry on a flirtation through surreptitious love letters, until Fermina’s father quasi-politely forbids Fermina to marry Florentino, because Florentino was illegitimate.  Fermina eventually marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, and they are married for almost fifty years until he dies, at which point Florentino returns into Fermina’s life, where he had been in love with her from afar, and tries to renew her love for him. She holds out at first, claiming that at their age love is indecent.  But Florentino takes up letter-writing again – this time via a typewriter – and their relationship grows from awkward acquaintances into platonic friends, and finally lovers while on a riverboat tour.

I would love to say “That’s it; that’s the plot,” but there’s so much more in the novel – and chances are, I probably won’t be able to elucidate those other things.

What Marquez specialized in was the genre that came to be known as “magic realism” – he discussed the daily details of his characters’ lives, but in a way that it didn’t sound tedious or boring.  Every aspect of their lives – whether it be the initial phases of falling in love, or having to make and eat numerous plates full of eggplant – took on a magical, otherworldly quality, and raised the characters and their actions and reactions to a heightened level of transcendence, if that makes any sense.  [This would be the point where I’d quote an example from the book, but it was a week overdue and I returned it already.]

In this book, Marquez makes numerous comparisons between “love” and “cholera” — that love causes pain, and digestive distress, and hallucinations, and can lead (in some cases) to death, just like cholera.  The character of Dr. Juvenal Urbino, Fermina Daza’s husband, treats such excessive love as a disease – we learn through flashbacks that he is a fastidious germaphobe, so he avoids any contact with a disease (or a disease-like affliction, like love).

There can also be discussions regarding the fact that Florentino Ariza does not remain chaste in his wait for Fermina Daza; his love remains constant, but he has affairs with numerous other women.  Fermina Daza, however, remains married to her husband and never strays from the marital bed.  If I were a scholar, I would discuss this dichotomy; but since I am not a scholar, I will simply say “GENERATIONAL AND CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL ISSUES” and walk away, because after all the Maleficent things I’ve been reading (and/or writing, and/or not even about Maleficent but the whole #YesAllWomen and the second coming of Women’s Rights), I’m exceedingly tired about that type of discussion and feel that I cannot adequately contribute to the discussion through the lens of magical realism literature.

I think my final topic of discussion is this: this book won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  And while it is a stunning treatise on the concept of love, its conditions, its disease-like qualities, and how people interact with it, I don’t understand why it won the Nobel.  Don’t get me wrong, it is an excellent book and I liked it — my feeling right now is that I didn’t understand the quality that garnered the Nobel, or I didn’t have a moment of epiphany that would make this my favorite book forever and ever (and there are a lot of people who claim this as one of their favorites).  I guess it goes back to the fact that I am not a scholar, and I don’t pretend to be one: this blog (and my reviews) are matters of opinion, not fact, and I don’t have the temperament to be a scholar: I get distracted by shiny Internet things too much.

Grade for Love in the Time of Cholera: 4 stars